THE ROUTINE AT THE HOTEL MAJESTIC
(From time to time the SUMMER NEWS will publish reports from CRIMSON editors traveling in this country and abroad. Here is the first such report.)
(Special to the SUMMER NEWS)
PARIS, June 26--Every Thursday morning at 10:15, a small procession sets out from the American Embassy in Paris and proceeds in black Plymouth Furies to the Hotel Majestic, about two blocks from the Arc de, Triomphe. This is how each session of the Paris Peace Talks begins.
The day this reporter was there, chief U.S. negotiator Henry Cabot Lodge '23 had just flown back from a half hour meeting with President Nixon the day before. Lodge said a few noncommittal words to the small group of reporters and cameramen gathered on the embassy steps to see him take off for the hotel. He then got in one of the Furies and drove off.
The hotel itself is strictly guarded. Its entrance is from a driveway which runs perpendicular to the street, and the gendarmes have it well blocked with fences and guards. If you walk along the hotel side of the street, the gendarmes make you cross to the other side as you near the hotel.
The talks take place behind closed doors and last until about 3 p.m. About half an hour later there is a press conference in the French communications building across the river.
The room where the press conference takes place is a large, yellow and brown auditorium. Reporters begin gathering there after lunch to wait for the eventual arrival, later in the afternoon, of the representatives. The journalists cluster around the proverbial press bar or sit and read copies of the statements which the delegates have delivered to the peace talks. Some of them phone back quotes from these statements to their papers.
They do not sound very excited. The general mood is one of resignation, like a jockey leading out a horse he knows will not win. One fellow reads a lead sentence from an article on Nixon which talks about not upsetting negotiations. "Which negotiations?" he asks, and everyone in the room laughs.
Like a race track, however, the mood is enlivened by the faint hope that, no matter how irrational it might be, the delegates could announce that the war is over. It would be so simple for them to come in and announce that negotiations had been successful, and a peace had been agreed upon. The talks will probably drag on Thursday after Thursday and yet there is the hope that the war could be finished and we could turn our exhausted nation to face its other real problems.
The press room is about evenly occupies by journalists with Western faces and those with Asian features. One man talks with a southern drawl and another writes in Chinese characters. There reporters go through the statements. They try to wring meaning out of the propaganda-filled speeches ---try to evaluate whether today Mr. Lodge seems tranquil or bitter, whether or not the Communists seem to be backing down on a demand. They remind you of the old men at Suffolk Downs trying to decide how to bet from information in the Morning Telegraph.
The press conference turns out to be really four press conference. The South Vietnamese government goes first, followed by the Americans, the Viet Cong, and the North Vietnamese. Each group waits about ten minutes after the previous group has left the stage before it goes on.
This particular session appears to have been rather unfruitful. After issuing their opening statements, it seems there was no negotiation by the parties involved. The person who gave the American press conference was a guy named Harold Kaplan. He was very clear and humorous and he and the reporters enjoyed kidding around with each other. After pointing out that the negotiations were at a stands-still, there did not seem to be much else to do.
The South Vietnamese representative gave the sort of predictable responses which make press conferences a bit boring, and the Viet Cong representative went into long harangues in Vietnamese, always grinning broadly at the audience.
The general impression here is that the talks are at a stalemate and may be so for some time. Thursday mornings are likely to see the same ritual enacted long into the summer, and perhaps far beyond it.